As 2012 comes a knockin', a look back at some of the highlights from high school sports in 2011:
Go West, young man: It was a quite a show at Boyle County in early February when Lamar Dawson, Mr. Football, announced in front of a crush of family, friends, fans and media that he was heading to Southern Cal. The star linebacker from Junction City had an immediate impact in L.A. Dawson played in eight games and had 25 tackles, 15 solo, for USC this season.
Reality tops fantasy: Rockcastle County basketball star Sara Hammond couldn't have dreamed a better senior season. The Louisville signee led the Rockets to their first-ever state title, was named MVP of the Sweet Sixteen, became the first Kentucky girl to be invited to the McDonald's All-America Game and won Miss Basketball honors. Hammond is averaging 4.5 points and 4.8 rebounds at Louisville.
Reality in recruiting: After Rowan County's Adam Wing amazing Saturday performance in the Sweet Sixteen (he hit 12 of 13 three-pointers in the semifinals and finals), his recruiting stock went up. Wing had already committed to play football at Marshall, but when Oklahoma State offered a basketball scholarship, he accepted it. A couple months later, however, OSU Coach Travis Ford landed higher-profile recruits, leaving Wing the odd man out. Wing reopened his recruitment and wound up signing to play basketball at Evansville.
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Highest ranking Colonel: Anthony Hickey's marvelous play at point guard sparked Christian County's Colonels to the Sweet Sixteen title. Hickey's verve and style electrified the Rupp Arena crowd, and ultimately helped him win Mr. Basketball honors and a scholarship to LSU. Hickey has started all 12 games at LSU and is averaging 9.3 points, 4.0 assists and has a team-high 30 steals.
Runs, hits, touchdowns: Central Hardin put up a football score in the state baseball finals, whomping Mercer County 21-2 in front of a record title game crowd of 5,097 at Whitaker Bank Ballpark. The Bruins' Austin Walters was tournament MVP after earning pitching wins over Clark County and St. Xavier, and smacking a pinch-hit grand slam in the finals.
When 3 is greater than 4: Caldwell County's Emma Talley finished her high school golf career by winning her third state title in four years. She would have had four if not for her honesty. After winning the 2009 state tournament by six shots, she called a scorecard error on herself and was disqualified.
Rasslin' and rushin' to glory: J.J. Jude of Johnson Central had a pretty good year. In February, he won a state wrestling title, going undefeated (52-0) at 171 pounds. In November, he became the state's all-time leading rusher with 8,633 yards, smashing Derek Homer's career record by more than 400 yards.
Humility personified: When Belfry's Philip Haywood became the state's all-time winningest football coach this fall, he was genuinely uncomfortable in the spotlight. He preferred his team's accomplishments get noticed, not his career victories. Haywood's focus on his players was once again rewarded as he led them to the 3A state finals where they lost a 15-14 heart-breaker to Central. Haywood finished the season with 350 wins.
Unbreakable? It's not as untouchable as Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, but it's hard to imagine any team coming close to Highlands' state-record total of 849 points this year. The unbeaten Bluebirds, led by Mr. Football and UK commit Patrick Towles, averaged 57 points in 15 games.
National champs: Trinity became the first Kentucky high school football team to be ranked No. 1 in the nation (in four different polls). The Shamrocks went unbeaten against a schedule that included powers from Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee. Their run might not be over. If Bob Beatty can find a few good linemen to go with returning skill stars James Quick, Travis Wright, Dalyn Dawkins and Ryan White, Trinity could run the table again next season.
Private thoughts: After Scott County lost to Trinity in the Class 6A football finals, Cardinals Coach Jim McKee noted a trend. Scott County has competed in eight post-season tournaments this school year, and private schools have won every team title — boys' cross country (St. Xavier); girls' cross country (Assumption); boys' golf (Lexington Christian); girls' golf (Sacred Heart); boys' soccer (St. X); girls' soccer (Notre Dame); volleyball (Assumption), and football (Trinity).
Make it a double?
■ Of Kentucky's six reigning state football champs, Trinity would appear to have the best chance to become the first school to win a state football title and Sweet Sixteen championship in the same school year. Three schools have come close to the football-basketball sweep in the last 15 years. Central won a football title in 2008, and three months later lost to Holmes in double-overtime in the Sweet Sixteen finals. Male won a football title in 2000, then lost to Lafayette in the Sweet Sixteen title game. Highlands won a football title in 1996, and three months later lost to Eastern in the basketball finals.
■ Rowan County, which lost to Christian County 65-63 in double overtime in the Sweet Sixteen finals, beat the Colonels 55-51 in the Ashland Invitational Tournament this week. D.J. Townsend led the winners with 21 points. Last week Rowan County's state runner-up team was honored before its game against West Carter in the 16th Region Challenge. West Carter didn't play along, though, and knocked off the Vikings 63-62, avenging a one-point loss to Rowan County earlier this season. West Carter has gotten standout performances from Kyle Brown and Derek Lawson recently. Brown had a career-high 36 points in a win over Greenup County, and Lawson pulled down a school-record 25 rebounds in a win over Menifee County.
■ Bardstown Coach James "Boo" Brewer has been in Lexington all week guiding his Tigers to the semifinals of the Republic Bank Holiday Classic. But Brewer, who played college hoops at Louisville, won't stick around to watch the Cards play UK in Rupp Arena on Saturday. Brewer could have gotten tickets from UK assistant Kenny Payne, who was his roommate at U of L. But Brewer said he gets too amped up watching the Cards-Cats in person. He wouldn't make a prediction on the game, saying Rick Pitino and John Calipari are both "great coaches," and he's just happy basketball in Kentucky has a national presence, with U of L, UK and unbeaten Murray State ranked.
■ On a personal note, the Republic Bank Holiday Classic hasn't been the same this year without Dick Robinson there, eyeballing the hoops talent and chatting up everybody in his indefatigable manner. Robinson, a high school sports junkie, died this summer. His spirit and friendship are missed.
■ Nice to see former Lexington Catholic baseball star and current Minnesota Twins outfielder Ben Revere getting lots of air time on ESPN. The network included his amazing over-the-shoulder, flying-into-the-wall catch on Aug. 22 as one of its "best of the best" sports highlights of the year.
■ North Laurel has hired Becky Abner Osborne as its new fast-pitch softball coach. As a pitching star at North Laurel, Becky Abner led the Jaguars to the 2001 state title. She was named Miss Softball in 2002, and went on to play at UK. Her college career was cut short when she was hit by a line drive her freshman season. She was inducted into the Kentucky Softball Hall of Fame in 2007.
■ In bowling's first year as a KHSAA-sanctioned sport, 80 high schools have teams. The bowling season began Nov. 28 and will conclude with a state tournament March 23-24 at Executive Bowl in Louisville. "It shows just how much our schools and student-athletes are craving participation and healthy competition," KHSAA commissioner Julian Tackett said. JoJo Miller of Fern Creek bowled the first 300 game in a KHSAA match against Bullitt Central.
■ It's been a good year for former Kentucky high school kickers in the NFL. David Akers (Tates Creek) of the San Francisco 49ers has a single-season record 42 field goals. Rob Bironas (Trinity) of the Tennessee Titans set an NFL record by kicking a field goal of 40 yards or longer in nine consecutive games.
■ The Jaggers' football coaching tree continues to branch out. Josh Jaggers, an all-state lineman at Danville who played at UK before finishing his career at Campbellsville, is the new head coach at LaRue County. He was an assistant there the past four seasons. Jaggers, 30, is following in family footsteps. His grandfather, Joe Jaggers, was once Kentucky's all-time winningest coach with 292 victories, including five state titles (two at Trigg County, three at Fort Knox). His father Marty Jaggers coached Mercer County to the 2006 state title. His uncle Crad Jaggers is head coach at North Hardin. Josh's dad said he tried to talk his son out of getting into coaching. "But I reckon it's just something in his blood," Marty said.
■ Football coaching changes in Louisville: LaVell Boyd is moving from Western to take over at Seneca. Daniel McDonald, 22, is the new coach at Waggener. He's a 2007 graduate of Waggener and was an assistant at Bullitt East. Ken Whalen has stepped down after eight years at Eastern.
■ Former Prestonsburg star Michael Burchett is the third-string quarterback at West Virginia and is making the trip to Miami for the Mountaineers' game against Clemson in the Orange Bowl on Wednesday. Burchett walked on at UK in 2010 but transferred to WVU before this season. He has a 4.0 GPA and is majoring in petroleum engineering.